A majority of Moroccans grow up speaking one of the Amazigh languages and yet it is only relatively recently that Amazigh has gained recognition. In our Sunday Feature, The View from Fez looks at the issue and along the way discovers a new book on the Amazigh language in education and the media
There are an estimated 23 million Amazigh, the majority of whom are Sunni Muslim. The largest populations are in Morocco and Algeria, in addition to smaller numbers in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt. The Amazigh have been living in North Africa for nearly 4,000 years. Some 75 percent of the Moroccan population is AmazighIn recent years the efforts to promote the Amazigh languages and culture have gained momentum. While Morocco has provided radio coverage for Amazigh speakers for some time, television was a long time coming.
Radio coverage is thankfully diverse with the RTM Chaîne Amazigh catering for Tachelhit, Tamazight and Tarifit speakers.
Tachelhit is spoken in south-west Morocco in an area between Sidi Ifni in the south Agadir in the north and Marrakech and the Draa/Sous valleys in the east. Tamazight is spoken in the Middle Atlas, between Taza, Khemisset, Azilal and Errachidia. Tarifit (or Rifia) is spoken in the Rif area of northern Morocco. A small number of radio programmes are also broadcast in Hassaniya, which is widely spoken in Western Sahara.
In January 2010, after years of delays, Morocco finally launched its first Amazigh language television station.
2010 will be remembered as a breakthrough year for Moroccan parents wanting to name their children with Amazigh names. In April of that year, the Ministry of Interior issued a directive that for the first time defined Amazigh names as meeting the legal prerequisite of being "Moroccan in nature." According to Human Rights Watch, the government directive liberalising Morocco's policy had positive results.
"By explicitly recognising Amazigh names as Moroccan, the government has eased a restriction on the right of parents to choose their children's names," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "This move shows greater respect and recognition for Morocco's ethnically and culturally diverse population."
"It was time! This was a victory and revenge for all the parents who were not allowed to give Amazigh names to their children. This circular represented the end of a racist law against all Amazigh, as the banning parents to give the name they wish their child was totally discriminatory." - Mounir Kejji, Amazigh activistGetting the law changed has been a long and hard struggle that began back in 1996 when Driss Basri, the interior minister at the time and Abdelouahab Ben Mansour chairman of the High Commission of the Civil Registry and historian of the kingdom signed the decree to prevent the use of Amazigh names.
In 2011 the new constitution finally resulted in the inclusion of Amazigh as part of the common heritage of all Moroccans and as an official language of the country. The formalisation of the Amazigh language was officially the culmination of a process initiated in a royal speech of Agadir in October 2001. It had also been brought about by decades of struggles by grassroots activists and intellectuals.
“For me, the greatest joy is to see that our work helps to bring about a change in Morocco, from denial to recognition of diversity and its sustainable management, and this is the way indicated to democracy" - Ahmed Assid (Amazigh Man of the Year- Idh Yennayer the Amazigh New Year 2962)Speaking in Rabat at the opening session of a national conference organised by the Royal Institute of Amazigh Culture (IRCAM) on the "formalisation of Tamazight in Moroccan Constitution: what strategies and measures?" the head of government, Abdelilah Benkirane stressed that the government program has highlighted the issue of formalising the Amazigh language.
This year saw the adoption of Amazigh by Microsoft, the launching of Amazigh as a Facebook language and even its adoption by Maroc telecom for use on smartphones. One of the most moving moments of this years Fes Festival of World Sacred Music was the sight of the tears running down Aïcha Redouane's cheeks as she sang "for the first time in my own language in my own country."
Respected public intellectuals such as Moha Ennaji and Fatima Sadiqi have been at the forefront of the movement to support the growth of Amazigh language and their contributions both in scholarly publications and as the driving force behind the popular Fes Festival of Amazigh Culture, continue to be invaluable. Sadiqi founded the Centre for Studies and Research on Women at the University of Fes. Fatima Sadiqi was appointed by Kufi Annan as a member of the UN Council for Development Policy (E.C.O.S.S.O.C.), and was appointed by the King of Morocco as a member of the Administrative Board of the Royal Institute of Amazigh Culture (IRCAM). And now Moha Ennaji has delivered a new publication that furthers the cause of Amazigh language and culture.
"The Amazigh Language in Education and Media " published by the South North Centre in Fez, is a valuable contribution to ongoing debates about how best to improve the status of the Amazigh language.
Edited by Moha Ennaji, this 360-page long book includes 20 chapters in Arabic, French, and English by American, European, and Maghrebi researchers. The studies included in this book explore the challenges of the introduction of the Amazigh language in education and media in the Maghreb and Europe.
The publication is a major contribution to the debate on improving the teaching of the Amazigh language and its integration in the media.
The chapters deal with socio-linguistic and educational phenomena in five main areas: evaluation of the results of the teaching of the Amazigh language (programs, textbooks , training of trainers); achievements in language planning and education ( comparison of Moroccan and foreign experience), the impact of media on the Amazigh language in the countries of immigration and of origin , integration of Amazigh in audiovisual media and press, and the importance of the use of the Amazigh language on the Internet ( review and Prospects ) .
It also aims to address matters relating to the Amazigh language and culture and contribute to the debate on the status of native languages in the North African and European countries.
The book, which offers a comprehensive approach to develop and deepen the teaching of Amazigh language and its use in modern media, however, reveals that the current experiments suffer from many shortcomings and face difficulties related mainly to application of policy and political discourse on the ground. In Europe, except for a small number of higher education institutions , Tamazight is almost nonexistent in the fields of education and in the national media , despite the presence of a large number of communities speaking the Amazigh .